Ex-conservative wises up by time he's 17

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In 1964, Bob Dylan was three years into a remarkable musical journey. Still, he was fearful he'd be forever defined by what he referred to as "finger-pointing" songs that launched a career that is still vital a half-century later.

Because he feared being frozen in amber, Mr. Dylan, then 23, wrote "My Back Pages," a song that was a declaration of independence from both the folk music revival that coalesced around him and the facile liberalism of the youth movement that had prematurely anointed him its spokesman.

The song's bitter refrain was a counterpoint to the egalitarianism of his protest songs: "Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."

"My Back Pages" has been correctly interpreted as a middle finger to those who demanded that Dylan curb his artistic vision and stick to the sentimental dogma of folk music and politics. Although his growth as an artist had outstripped his earliest fans' ability to keep up, he didn't care. Standing still on a moving train wasn't an option.

Former conservative wunderkind Jonathan Krohn is no Bob Dylan, but he, too, was once embraced by a political movement desperate for a charismatic spokesman it could manipulate long into the future.

Recently, Politico went looking for the young man who electrified the 2009 Conservative Political Action Conference with a speech outlining the principles of conservatism. Because an old-man smell had already begun wafting from the 13-year-old prodigy's body, there were suspicions that he was being over-coached by a stage mom who didn't know how freakish it was for a boy who had yet to experience puberty to quote Edmund Burke and Ludwig von Mises with a straight face.

At 17, Mr. Krohn is finally old enough to cringe at the memory of his CPAC speech and his regular appearances on "Hannity" to hawk books that once garnered effusive blurbs from William Bennett and Newt Gingrich.

In a week filled with denunciations of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts by broken-hearted conservatives, Mr. Krohn said that he favored "Obamacare." He's also pro-choice. Like President Obama, his views on gay marriage have evolved, too. "You know, it was the social conservatism that was really the first thing to go," he told MSNBC.

Although unwilling to refer to himself as a big "D" Democrat, Mr. Krohn acknowledged that the world was far more complicated than his former world view allowed. The fact that he plans to enter New York University as a freshman majoring in philosophy and filmmaking is enough to damn him for all time with the right.

Still, he doesn't plan on exchanging one plantation for another by becoming a liberal mascot. He said he'd vote for Mr. Obama in November if he were old enough. "The issues are so complex, you can't just go with some ideological mantra for each substantive issue," he told Politico.

Blame Nietzsche and the other German philosophers he has been reading for his change of heart. His subscription to The New Yorker and his daily consumption of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have obviously corrupted him, turning him into a man well acquainted with irony.

For his apostasy, Mr. Krohn has been denounced by several of his former fellow travelers as a cynical opportunist who has probably renounced his faith to score with girls and start a lucrative career as a liberal pundit. Others have denigrated his intelligence, insisting that he was overrated from the beginning and that he was a creature of his mother's stage managing.

One blog with pretensions of national influence quoted an anonymous source who said that Mr. Krohn was already showing signs of being condescending and unlikable at 13. The consensus on the right seems to be that conservatism gains nothing from promoting its house "prodigies" before they've truly earned their stripes. Young conservatives should work out their ideas in obscurity -- or at least until they're old enough to vote.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Krohn is using his return to the spotlight to set the record straight about his political evolution and to deny that his nascent liberalism has necessarily made him some kind of progressive chick magnet.

"There weren't any ladies in the conservative pundit phase, and there are not much now," he told the liberal Talking Points Memo. "I'm still a white Jewish nerd, I mean, come on."


Tony Norman: tnorman@post-gazette.com; 412-263-1631; www.twitter.com/TonyNormanPG.


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